University Beat
1:14 pm
Tue January 8, 2013

Bully or Good Grades? USF Professor's Game Lets You Relive High School

Whether you didn't enjoy high school (I was a 5'3" tall freshman, but it got better after that) or it truly was the best time of your life, a board game created by a USF Professor and his friends gives you the opportunity to relive high school.

Philip Bishop is a visiting professor teaching philosophy courses in USF’s Honors College and a self-professed "gaming geek." During a gaming session with friends, including his own high school classmate, USF graduate teaching assistant Alan Shaw, the group began discussing making a board game out of their high school experiences.

“That spilled into, well, how would you do that, how would you make in a game, getting to the hallways, getting to your classroom, just getting through the day?" said Shaw. "And that turned into, oh, that mechanic would work perfectly, why isn’t somebody writing this down?”

Within two hours, they had a game board, character ideas, and the beginning of a set of rules—the basic ingredients for what became “High School!! The Game of Surviving Public Education.”

“It just resonated with all of us," said Bishop. "It was just such a clean, creative experience that it told me that there was something sort of iconic and classical about the experience of high school that had not yet been captured in gameplay.”

The game combines elements of both board and card games. Players assume the part of a choir geek, computer nerd or similar stereotypical roles and then take part in smaller games that resemble an average high school day—navigating the halls, going to different classes, lunch, and so on. Players even get to set up the game board, which resembles an average high school, how they want.

“You might want to make it so the principal’s office is on one side of the school, so that if you’re going to be bullying someone, you’ll have free reign on the other side of the school," said Bishop.

Bullying plays a major role in the game, as players use cards to move around the board--cards bearing titles like "Grade Curve," "Homework" and "Appeal to Authority."

“Each card has two abilities on it," said Bishop. "one ability is the ability that you can use on yourself or a friend of yours to advance your GPA in some way, shape or form, and the other one is a bullying ability.”

Bullying includes such things as sticking another player in a locker or beaning a classmate with a dodge ball, thereby taking their focus off of learning. At the same time, players can evade bullies by heading to the nurse’s office or using a hall pass. Such moves boost a player’s grade point average—and the player with the highest GPA wins the game!

“It’s not a bullying game—it’s a high school simulator, and we wanted to get the message out that you’re supposed to get good grades, that’s one of the fun things that playing with a game like this is we can embed a message in it," said Bishop.

“You kind of had to explore that duality, you can be part of the group or you could be a good student or you could be the person who makes everyone else’s life difficult, but you can’t be both of those things," added Shaw.

"In a game that’s just about getting through the day, the student that goes out of their way to make everyone else’s life difficult, is always going to lose, is always going to do far, far worse than everybody else.”

And while the game isn't designed with that teaching message in mind, Shaw admits real-life high schoolers could benefit from playing it.

“Being a part of the high school community, working to ensure your education is solid, valuing that over bullying, that’s definitely something, a message that you could communicate through this game.”

But Bishop and Shaw say the real reason they created the game isn't for some highly educational purpose or for profit.

“Our goal really honestly is not to make money on this project, we’re all fully employed," said Bishop. "Our goal is to give back to a (gaming) community that gave to us when we were young."

That, Shaw adds, includes today's young gamers who remind the creators of themselves--teens growing up, simply looking for a place to fit in.

“I think that these games and other games like them, they’re a safety net," said Shaw. "They help kids have that chance to deal with unfortunate trauma that happens sometimes as a part of high school experiences.”

The group has formed a company, Garrison Games, and is raising funds through the Kickstarter website for a small initial print run of about 500 copies of “High School!! The Game of Surviving Public Education.”